We're Training for Life - By Tasha Nathan

I remember the first time I held a plank for 8 seconds longer than I usually did, the first time I did a full set of push ups on my toes instead of my knees.

I remember when I first felt the strength I was cultivating in barre class outside of the studio. I lifted my luggage into the overhead bin, boarding a flight for work, and thought “wow that was easy!”

I’d continue to notice this while lugging groceries from the store to my apartment, or in other fitness classes where my barre training crossed over and increased my endurance and alignment. I’d often reflect on these moments while teaching, saying “we’re training for life” or “what you do on the mat will follow you out of this room.”


I also remember the first time I began to learn what that really means.

I was 29 years old, two weeks shy of my 30th birthday. I found myself sitting in the exam room of my oncologist’s office while a nurse accessed my newly placed port (the subdermal device by my collarbone used to deliver my chemo and other medicines, or draw blood), to give me IV antibiotics when I developed a fever after my second chemotherapy round.

“You are really good at breathing,” she noted as I took slow, intentional breaths while she inserted the needle into what essentially felt like a skittle under my skin…a target asking to be missed.

“Thanks, it's all the yoga and barre,” I said with eyes squeezed shut. She asked if I was still practicing and teaching, and while I smiled politely and said “I’m on leave,” all I felt was rage. How could she ask that? My head was already bald, after just two out of 14 cycles of chemo. I had a neutropenic fever. I could barely eat. I was 29 with cancer. What on earth made her think I was practicing yoga or pulsing it out in barre?

In the coming months, I’d lose the mobility, muscle, and endurance I had worked so hard over the previous six years to build. I’d wonder if I would ever practice again. And in that same time frame, I’d realize I never stopped practicing, and I could’ve answered yes to my nurse’s question.

Due to the nerve damage chemo caused, I needed a lot of physical therapy, and the first thing we worked on were calf raises. This felt cruel because I physically could not lift my heels off the ground, and grieved the previous six years I’d been able to hold them up in the highest parallel or high heel V thigh work. I questioned if I’d ever be able to do that again, but decided those exercises would be my physical therapy benchmark. Teaching parallel thigh work again one day (my favorite) became my motivation to work at PT on the days it felt impossible.


Around this time, the chemo toxicity had built up so much that getting through each round felt like the chemo might kill me before the cancer. Chemo was between 2-5 days during each cycle, roughly eight hours at a time. Usually I’d decline on the second or third to last treatment day of my cycle, and I’d tell myself it was simply the final eight count hold of class. Just one or two more eight count holds, and I’d be done with the round.

Waves of nausea were constant between pain meds and chemo. Each time one would hit, I’d close my eyes and breath. The same cue I gave everytime I taught or practiced flat back chair. “Close your eyes and breathe to the finish,”

I had learned in class to speak kindly to my body. Which is easier to do when you see and feel it getting stronger. In treatment, almost daily, I would wonder what I ever did to my body for it to betray me like this.

It took months, but it was at my most weak and debilitated that I realized this body was on my side and deserved my compassion. It was trying so hard to heal. It had a heart that was still beating despite all of the medication it was processing and a brain that would find the smallest inkling of willpower to keep going. As long as I had that, I had a shot.

Perhaps the most important lesson I had taken from my barre and yoga practice was nonattachment. I had once said to a friend, “I haven’t practiced yoga in almost a year,” and immediately stopped and said “no, wait. I have actually practiced it every day.”

You see, every day of treatment, I had to confront the idea that I had no control over the outcome. I was either going to live or I was going to die. We were trying everything to let it be the former, but in the end I had no control. I had to be unattached to either possibility if I wanted to maintain any form of peace and enjoy the life I still had. And in practicing nonattachment, I was able to be in the present. In yoga this is called “aparigraha,” the last Yama in Pantanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. I practiced this limb of yoga daily when my body couldn’t practice the asanas.

It was a long road from the end of treatment to returning to physically teaching and practicing again. But in returning, I know the true meaning of “we’re training for life.” Yes, you’ll be able to lift your bags into the overhead bin, or carry your groceries. But you’ll also pick up your children or your pets - the hammer curls building the muscles that do this.

You’ll get out of bed in the morning to enjoy your work or activities with loved ones - those glute sets assisting you in this. You’ll breathe when you feel emotionally challenged, the breath you used in chair pose helping you process your emotions, leading with intention instead of reaction.

You’ll learn how to modify exercises to support your body, learning that taking those options is a sign of strength and building trust with yourself. And that trust will follow you into the decisions you make off your mat.

You’ll know yourself a little better, and be able to live in your truth a little more. And it’ll all follow you right out of the studio…where we’re just training for life.

By Tasha Nathan